In Singapore: The amazing human tower builders of Catalonia

20 10 2016

A Catalonian tradition that dates back to the 1700s, a human tower or castell building performance is being seen for the first time in Southeast in Asia. One of the many rich and interesting cultural practices of Spain as a whole, and of Catalonia, the tradition – usually performed on important festivals, is inscribed in the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

The Minyons de Terrassa at Kidzania, Sentosa.

Close to 300 castellers from the Minyons de Terrassa are in Singapore, brought in by Qatar Airways and the Catalonia Tourism Board. The group has recently broken the world record for the biggest human tower ever built.

Practice makes perfect.

Practice makes perfect.

The building of castells involve a huge group forming the all important base on top of which tiers of more castellers are progressively built up, supported by the shoulders of those in the tiers below. The bigger built of the castellers form the lower tiers with brave young children climbing higher up to form the summit.

Forming the base.

Forming the base.

Forming the lower tier.

The Minyons de Terrassa, who have performed at Raffles Place on 19 October and at Kidzania in Sentosa today, will hold two more performances tomorrow, 21 October 2016, at 4.30 pm for ITB Asia at the Marina Bay Sands Expo and Convention Centre and again at 5.30 pm at Customs House. On another note, Qatar Airways, flies from Singapore to Barcelona (and Madrid) via Doha’s Hamad International Airport. The airlines is offering special fares, which start from SGD 945, until 24 October 2016 for travel until 30 June 2017.

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10 reasons (out of possibly thousands more) to want to win that trip to Spain

18 09 2016

Spain with its rich history, diverse cultural and culinary influences and its much varied geography, is a country that offers a wealth of experiences to the traveller. There are many reasons to want to visit it, much more than the ten that follow and you now have a chance to find that out for free with TripZilla. The travel magazine and portal is looking at giving  a 12 D/11 N trip sponsored by the Spain Tourism Board and Turkish Airlines away in  Singapore, Indonesia and the Philippines through its SPAIN IN THE EYES OF SOUTHEAST ASIA giveaway.

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The contest is open only to residents of each of the countries mentioned who are between 23 and 55 years old. To take part, a minimum of three smart phone taken photographs (taken in their respective countries of residence) that participants feel best represents Spain, need to be submitted. Participants will have until 24 September 2016 to do this, after which one winner will be selected from each of the three countries. The trip to Spain being given away will include round-trip tickets, hotel accommodation and guided tours.

Just four simple steps are needed for the chance to win this valuable trip, which are:

  1. Sign-up @ https://www.tripzilla.com/spain-tourism-board-giveaway
  2. Take a minimum of 3 snapshots of places, items or colours in your country that you think best represents Spain
  3. Upload your photos onto the TripZilla Facebook page event with the hashtags #visitspain #winatriptospain #spainintheeyesofsoutheastasia
  4. Add a caption to describe why you think that place/item/colours in your photos best represents Spain

More information on the giveaway can be found at TripZilla.com and also TripZilla’s Facebook page event.


10 (out of possibly thousands more!) reasons to want to win that trip 

The stunning sight of Toledo rising above the River Tagus

The historic city of Toledo, as view from Cerro del Emperador.

Toledo, as viewed from Cerro del Emperador.

The vista from the Cerro de Emperador after dark is just as stunning ...

The vista from the Cerro del Emperador after dark is just as stunning …

As it is just before sunrise.

… as it also is just before the sunrise.

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Quaint villages right out of a book of fairy tales

Twilight descends on O'Cebreiro, a hilltop village along the French route of the Camino de Santiago. The village church is where the Holy Grail is housed.

Twilight descends on O’Cebreiro, a hilltop village along the French route of the Camino de Santiago. The village church is where the Holy Grail is housed.

A traditional thatched roof stone hut known as a palloza at O'Cebreiro.

A traditional thatched roof stone hut known as a palloza at O’Cebreiro.

The village of La Riera in the Asturias.

The village of La Riera in the Asturias.

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The opportunity to spend a night in a historic building

Parador Hostal Dos Reis Catolicos in Santiago de Compostela, built as a hospital in 1499.

Parador Hostal Dos Reis Catolicos in Santiago de Compostela, built as a hospital in 1499.

Inside the Parador Hostal dos Reis Católicos.

Inside the Parador Hostal dos Reis Católicos.

Parador Hostal de San Marcos in León, built in the 16th century as a military building.

Parador Hostal de San Marcos in León, built in the 16th century as a military building.

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A wealth of UNESCO World Heritage Sites that span a period of more than 2000 years

The amazingly well preserved 2000 year old Roman aqueduct in Segovia.

The amazingly well preserved 2000 year old Roman aqueduct in Segovia.

The gondola, seen from the walkway.

A UNESCO World Heritage site from more recent times – the Vizcaya “hanging bridge”. 

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Its gorgeous seaside towns

San Sebastian in the Basque Country.

San Sebastian in the Basque Country.

Castro Urdiales, a grogeous seaport in Cantabria close to Bilbao.

Castro Urdiales, a grogeous seaport in Cantabria close to Bilbao.

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Some of the oldest university towns in Europe

The University of Salamanca, which dates back to 1134, is the oldest in Spain and the third oldest in Europe.

The University of Salamanca, which dates back to 1134, is the oldest in Spain and the third oldest in Europe.

Salamanca.

Salamanca.

The original university at the town of Alcalá de Henares goes back to 1293.

The original university at the town of Alcalá de Henares goes back to 1293.

Alcalá de Henares. The town is also known for its famous son, Miguel de Cervantes, Spain’s most celebrated literary figure.

Alcalá de Henares. The town is also known for its famous son, Miguel de Cervantes, Spain’s most celebrated literary figure.

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To learn about its rich and fascinating history, particularly that of the Rerconquest 

The reconquest - in which this cave in Covadonga in the Asturias, featured.

A cave in Covadonga in the Asturias, which featured in the launch of the Reconquest,  a significant event in Spain’s history that remains very much embedded in the Spanish psyche.

The walled medieval town of Ávila, whose walls date back to the 11th century and are said to be the best conserved of the age. The walls were constructed following the reconquest and repopulation of the area.

The walled medieval town of Ávila, whose walls date back to the 11th century and are said to be the best conserved of the age. The walls were constructed following the reconquest and repopulation of the area.

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A set of still used pilgrimage routes that date back to the 9th Century

Pilgrims on the long road to Santiago de Compostela. A well used route is the Camino Frances, which involves a 780 km walking journey from the south of France.

Pilgrims on the long road to Santiago de Compostela. A well used route is the Camino Frances, which involves a 780 km walking journey from the south of France.

The Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, where the relics of St. James (Santiago), one of the 12 apostles, is kept.

The Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, where the relics of St. James (Santiago), one of the 12 apostles, is kept.

The city of Santiago de Compostela.

The city of Santiago de Compostela.

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Its impressive Gothic cathedrals

Toledo Cathedral.

Toledo Cathedral.

Burgos Cathedral.

Burgos Cathedral.

Stained glass inside León Cathedral.

Stained glass inside León Cathedral.

The walled town of Segovia is topped by its impressive cathedral.

The walled city of Segovia is topped by its impressive cathedral.

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The Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao

The Gueggenheim Museum in Bilbao.

The Gueggenheim Museum in Bilbao.

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Hanging on – the amazing hanging bridge near Bilbao

29 06 2016

I love bridges, especially ones on which supporting truss or cable stays structures add to their overall aesthetics.

One rather interesting looking bridge the sight of which I was particularly taken with, is the Puente Vizcaya (Bizkaia in Basque) or the Vizcaya Bridge. I managed a visit to it during a sojourn in the north of Spain in 2013. Straddling the Río Ibaizábal, close to where it spills into the Bay of Biscay, the bridge with its horizontal span elevated some 45 metres above the ground and supported by four lattice ironwork towers, is quite an amazing sight to behold.

The suspended gondola of the Vizcaya Bridge with Portugalete seen in the background.

The suspended gondola of the Vizcaya Bridge with Portugalete seen in the background.

The bridge, a so-called transporter bridge, is not what one might think of as bridge in the conventional sense. Rather than a roadway or walkway across which vehicular of pedestrian traffic is carried, a transporter bridge carries its load on a gondola that is suspended by wire-ropes from a moving trolley running across its horizontal span and is more akin to a ferry.

The Vizcaya Bridge.

The Vizcaya Bridge.

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The bridge in its early days (Gizmodo Australia).

A close-up of the gondola.

A close-up of the gondola.

Developed as a solution to allow the crossing of navigable waterways in areas where space and geography restrict the deployment of the long ramps that  would be necessary to carry vehicular traffic to the deck of bridges elevated high enough to clear shipping, the do have limitations in the volume and rate at which traffic can be moved across the gap and as a result have not seen widespread use. Less than thirty were built worldwide, mostly around the turn of the twentieth century.

The gondola is suspended using wire-ropes from a trolley running across its span.

The gondola is suspended using wire-ropes from a trolley running across its span.

The idea for the transporter bridge has been attributed to Charles Smith, an Englishman from Hartlepool. While his invention was made public in 1873, it wasn’t until two decades later in 1893 that the first such bridge, which was the Vizcaya, was completed. Designed by Basque architect Alberto de Palacio, a disciple of Gustave Eiffel (of the Eiffel tower fame), it sparked off a small wave of construction of several other transporter bridges.

A view of the trolley from the top of the bridge.

A view of the trolley from the top of the bridge.

Known also as “puente colgante” or “hanging bridge”, the Vizcaya Bridge as a structure, takes us back to the heyday of the industrial and maritime age in Bilbao and a time when the area’s deposits of iron-ore fed the hungry blast furnaces of Europe. This, as well as several other factors that include its dramatic presence and aesthetics,  the technical creativity it expresses, and its role in influencing the development of similar structures, has seen its inscription on the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Inscribed in 2006,  the Vizcaya Bridge now holds the distinction of being the only World Heritage site in the Basque Country.

A view of the moth of the Ibaizába estuary from the bridge.

A view of the moth of the Ibaizába estuary from the bridge.

The bridge is well worth a visit if you do find yourself in and around Bilbao, a city best known in these parts for its football team and the rather iconic Guggenheim Museum Bilbao. Besides the unique experience that crossing on its gondola offers, the bridge also features a walkway across its horizontal span, which provides not just a view of its trolley and operating mechanism but also a fantastic view of the towns of Getxo and Portugalete as well as the landscape around the mouth of the Ibaizábal estuary. More information on the bridge, access to its walkway and its UNESCO World Heritage listing can be found at the following links:

Portugalete fron the bridge.

Portugalete fron the bridge.

The gondola, seen from the walkway.

The gondola, seen from the walkway.

The walkway.

The walkway.

Getxo as seen from the bridge's walkway.

Getxo as seen from the bridge’s walkway.

The Ibaizába River.

The Ibaizába Rive, a passage for shipping destined for the old docks of Bilbao.

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The Vizcaya Bridge seen through the buildings of Portugalete.

The Vizcaya Bridge seen through the buildings of Portugalete.

 





A visit to a charcoal factory

23 06 2016

The business of charcoal making, which in the region makes use of wood from the abundant mangrove forests, has long ceased in Singapore. The last factory, on the evidence of a 1972 Straits Times article, was possibly on Pulau Tekong and it only is in some of our neighbouring countries that the production of what some may consider to be black gold can be found.

The charcoal factory at Kuala Sepetang.

The charcoal factory at Kuala Sepetang.

One production centre that I had the opportunity to visit is the factory at Kuala Sepetang, located along the northern Perak coastline, just 15 kilometres from the charming old mining town of Taiping. The factory, operated by a Mr. Chuah Chow Aun, has a reputation for the best charcoal in Asia and does a thriving trade in meeting the demand from the large Japanese market.

Charcoal kilns, the contruction knowhow of which interestingly, was brought in by the Japanese during the war.

Charcoal kilns, the contruction knowhow of which interestingly, was brought in by the Japanese during the war. The logs with barks stripped from them, are ready for the kilns.

The factory is well worth a visit just for the setting it finds itself in. Its long zinc roofed wooden sheds against which stacks of bakau wood logs are arranged, against the backdrop of the beautiful Matang mangrove forest on the banks of the Sungai Kapal Changkol, makes the scene it presents one that somehow looks like one that could well belong in a good old Western movie.

Another view of the factory. Logs are stripped of their barks in the area where they are unloaded from boats that bring them in from the nearby mangrove forest.

Another view of the factory. Logs are stripped of their barks in the area where they are unloaded from boats that bring them in from the nearby mangrove forest.

The sheds are where the main process of turning the wood is carried out. In them one finds rows of smoking kilns, in which the wood is heated and not, as is popularly believed, burnt, with the aim of removing water – which makes up the bulk of its weight when harvested, from the logs. It is a long, tedious and rather labour intensive process that is employed, which starts with the unloading of logs harvested primarily from 30 year old bakau minyak (Rhizophora apiculata) trees for which a sapling is planted for every tree that is harvested. The logs, which measure up to 5 inches in diameter, are prepared for the kilns by stripping their barks before they are stacked against the kilns before being moved in.

Logs of various diameters.

Logs of various diameters.

I was rather surprised to hear that it was in fact the Japanese that brought in the charcoal making techniques that are employed at Kuala Sepetang during the occupation. This process, involves the heating of the kilns – in which logs are positioned vertically on blocks of clay to keep them off the ground before the opening is reduced sufficiently in size to serve as a firing box, for a period of about 10 days. At this stage the temperature within the kilns is raised about 85° C. After this comes a second stage of heating for which the opening is reduced further, for another 12 days during which temperatures are raised to about  220° C. The kiln is left to cool for another week or so before the cured wood can be taken out.

A kiln opening, through which logs are moved into the kiln.

A kiln opening, through which logs are moved into the kiln.

Logs are arranged vertically on clay blocks.

An example of how logs are vertically arranged and the clay blocks on which they are made to stand on.

The first stage during with a larger opening is maintained at the firing box.

The first stage during with a larger opening is maintained at the firing box.

Experience plays an important part in the process and is monitored only through observation of the vapour that billows out of an opening in the kiln. From 1500 logs or about 40 to 50 tonnes of wood that is placed in the kilns before the start of firing, only 10 tonnes of is left as charcoal – the rest of the weight having been expelled as vapour. The vapour however does not go to waste and is in its condensed form, sold as mangrove wood vinegar, which is said to repel mosquitoes and cure common skin problems.

The opening is reduced during the second stage.

The opening is reduced during the second stage.

A kiln in use.

A kiln in use.

The factory, Khay Hor Holdings Sdn. Bhd. or more commonly referred to as the Kuala Sepetang Charcoal Factory, is open for visits. Arrangements can be made for guided tours by contacting Mr. Chuah at +60 12 5739563. More information is available at the Kuala Sepetang Charcoal Factory Facebook Page and at this link: The Charcoal Factory.

Vapour coming out of a kiln - the vapour, which is used to monitor the process , is collected and sold in its condense form as mangrove wood vinegar.

Vapour coming out of a kiln – the vapour, which is used to monitor the process , is collected and sold in its condense form as mangrove wood vinegar.

The entrance to the factory.

The entrance to the factory.

 





Green fields and purple waters

2 01 2016

A veritable feast of colour awaits the visitor to Sekinchan. A seemingly laid back town along the northern Selangor coast, it has, in the time since it featured in the 2011 TV series “The Seeds of Life”, become popular as a destination for an excursion with the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur less than an hour and a half’s drive away. Set in the midst of vibrant green paddy fields and boasting of a riverine harbour painted by a substantial fleet of fishing boats, wooden jetties and the river’s brown, almost purple waters, Sekinchan is a destination that is especially popular with photographers.

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The river mouth near Pantai Redang, Sekinchan

There are two very distinct sides to Sekinchan, each set on either side of Malaysian Federal Route 5. The main thoroughfare that brings the busloads of visitors into the town, also divides it into a landward side on the east in which most of the town’s agricultural activities take place, and a seaward side in the west where its harbour and its fishing related activities are concentrated in. The rather picturesque paddy fields in the east, said to be among the highest yielding in the country, are also amongst the country’s most photographed.

The paddy fields.

The paddy fields.

Another view of the paddy fields.

Another view of the paddy fields.

More paddy fields.

More paddy fields.

A wooden bridge over an irrigation canal.

A wooden bridge over an irrigation canal.

The western side, with its crowd of boats and jetties in what is known locally as Ang Mo Kang or Red Hair Harbour, also provides many opportunities for the photographer, as does the nearby Pantai Redang (Redang Beach). It is just south of Pantai Redang that the river which plays host to the fishing harbour spills into the sea, providing the observer with a seascape at low tide coloured by a rare mix of hues:  the purple of the river, the mud brown of the tidal flats, the grey of the shallow waters of the sea, all against the blue of the sky.

The fishing harbour.

The fishing harbour.

The purple stream.

The purple stream spilling into the sea close to Pantai Redang.

Fish being sorted out for sale.

Fish being sorted out.

Pantai Redang, is also where the colour red features rather prominently. It is where the wishing tree stands, painted almost  red by thousands of ribbons on the hopes and wishes of many have been penned. In the shadow of the tree stands the equally red Datuk Kong (拿督公) temple from which one can obtain the weighted red ribbons that must be thrown up to the tree after one’s wishes are inscribed.

The wishing tree at Pantai Redang.

The wishing tree at Pantai Redang.

The Datuk Kong temple.

The Datuk Kong temple.

A window into the Datuk Kong temple.

A window into the Datuk Kong temple.

Besides the many attractions (there are many more) the visitor should pay a visit to – should one have the time, a visit to one of the many seafood restaurants in town offering the freshest of catches for a meal is a must before hitting the road. A quick visit to the old parts of town on the eastern side is also recommended for its quaint looking shops, as is a stop at one of the fruit stalls lining the road out of town for what must surely be Sekinchan’s best offering – its sweet and extremely juicy large green mangoes.

A seafood restaurant.

A seafood restaurant.

A shopfront in the old town.

A shopfront in the old town.

An old kopitiam.

An old kopitiam.

A temple.

A temple.

Fruits on display at a roadside fruit stall.

Fruits on display at a roadside fruit stall – fruits – especially the delicious huge juicy mangoes seen on the top, are recommended buys from Sekinchan.


 





Seeking the familiar in the unfamiliar

1 01 2016

I love a wander around the streets of the Malaysian capital, Kuala Lumpur. KL, as the city is fondly referred to, not unlike Singapore, has seen an incredible transformation over the last three decades. But unlike Singapore, which has discarded much of what that made it what it was, KL has retained pockets of of the old world; a world that gives me that sense of familiarity that is missing from the streets of the city I spent most of my life in.

One area I am particularly fond of taking a stroll through is in the part of KL around Petaling Street. Much about it has changed – and is still changing, in its back lanes and kaki-kaki-lima (five-foot-ways) I am able to find enough familiar to me from my excursions to it of two and a half decades past. Still around are the busy places of worship and the old but now shrinking back lane wet market and familiar food-stalls at Madras Lane. The old shophouses along Jalan Sultan are also still there, although some of the trades found in them – such as an old denture workshop, seemed in the two years since I last visited the street, to have closed for good.

A peek into the late 19th century Kuan Ti temple at Jalan Tun H S Lee.

A peek into the late 19th century Kuan Ti temple at Jalan Tun H S Lee.

A five-foot-way along Jalan Tun H S Lee.

A five-foot-way along Jalan Tun H S Lee.

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The front of an old pet bird shop along Jalan Sultan.

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Kneading dough at a back lane pau stall.

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A back lane kopitiam (coffee shop) at a back lane flea market, Pasar Karat.

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The back lane wet market at Madras Lane.

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The well-known Four-Eyed (bespectacled) One – Sze Ngan Chye roast duck cart along Petaling Street.

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Slaughtered birds at a live chicken stall at the wet market.

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KL favourites in a back lane – the Madras Lane Yong Tau Foo and Laska stalls.





Darkness and light, Lower Manhattan

18 11 2015

Lower Mahattan, seen in the magical light of the bright spring sunshine in April this year:

The East Coast Memorial at Battery Park.

The East Coast Memorial at Battery Park and the Statue of Liberty.

The rotunda of the Alexander Hamilton US Customs House at Bowling Green.

The rotunda of the Alexander Hamilton US Customs House at Bowling Green.

A staircase inside the Alexander Hamilton US Customs House.

A staircase inside the Alexander Hamilton US Customs House.

Bowling Green.

Buildings at Bowling Green.

Inside the Alexander Hamilton US Customs House.

Inside the Alexander Hamilton US Customs House.

Trinity Church as viewed from Wall Street.

Trinity Church as viewed from Wall Street.

Detail on an entrance door to Trinity Church.

Detail on an entrance door to Trinity Church.

Darkness and light, death and life, Trinity Church Cemetery.

Darkness and light, death and life, Trinity Church Cemetery.

View from the yard of St. Paul's Chapel.

View from the yard of St. Paul’s Chapel.

City Hall Park.

City Hall Park.

New York City Hall.

New York City Hall.

The Brooklyn Bridge.

The Brooklyn Bridge.

Thomas Paine Park and the New York County Supreme Court.

Thomas Paine Park and the New York County Supreme Court.

Light and shadow.

Where the light shines – the Police Building and the view down Grand Street.

Lafayette Street (near intersection with Kenmare Street).

Lafayette Street near its intersection with Kenmare Street.

Lafayette Street.

Lafayette Street.

Washington Square.

Washington Square.

Washington Square.

Washington Square.

Union Square.

Union Square.

 








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